Daily prompt: The virtues of recitation


When I was in primary school, we recited a lot of thing – times tables, for example; how to parse verbs and nouns; the major rivers of NSW north to south; tables of weights and measures. And although it wasn’t the most fascinating way of learning, by golly it stuck, and I really don’t think it did irreparable damage to our delicate childish psyches.

But then those were the days when delicate childish psyches didn’t get much of a look-in, and in this instance, you won’t find me regretting it. How useful is it to know instantly and automatically that twelve eights are ninety-six, or that if you buy five of those fantastic $7 specials, it’s going to cost you 35 bucks?

The parsing thing really only came into its own when I started to learn other languages, but I won’t go into that because if you didn’t learn how to parse an English noun in the first place (and very few people do nowadays) you won’t know what I’m talking about.

The rivers of NSW? Not of great practical value, but they did give me a geographical understanding of where I live, and why some things happened as they did. Weights and measures were no longer of use when everything went metric, but they still come in handy for the treasures in my mother’s recipe books, so I’m not complaining.

We also, back then, recited a lot of poetry, mainly Australian bush verse which had the advantage (to children) of scanning and rhyming, but would be heavily scorned in the current age of (often formless) obscurity, as being trite.

But as I get older – more contemplative – those are the snippets that pop into my head rather than the more ‘acceptable’ poetry I consumed in large quantities.

Like this:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains…

 An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand…

                From My Country by Dorothea Mackellar.

Or this:

There used to be a red road running o’er the rise,
Dipping down to fernland and climbing to the skies;
And there among the tall trees the sleepy shadows lay,
And the forest birds were singing there the livelong day.

I used to like to walk there as the days grew old,
Beneath the stately gum trees afire with sunset gold…
And somewhere near the sunrise, before my days are done
I’ll build myself a resting place where still the red roads run.
                From The Red Road by John K Ewers.

 Perhaps the fact that they speak to me now as they didn’t then is symptomatic of creeping senility, but you know what? I don’t care.



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15 Responses to Daily prompt: The virtues of recitation

  1. Those are evocative poems and I like them, too. 🙂

  2. At my school we endlessly recited our times tables, but, in my case, they never stuck – which didn’t matter since I’m good at mental arithmetic (useful when you go beyond 12×12). However, my mother recited poetry, and much of that remains with with me to this day, along with the sound of her voice, and the dreamy look in her eyes.

    • It’s a good thing tables stuck, for me. Mental arithmetic is definitely Not My Thing. My parents read us a lot of poetry. and it’s one of my fondest memories. Also, I’m sure, the reason I don’t have trouble writing verse that scans!

      • Same here. One of the reasons I write so much free verse is that, for me, it’s more of a challenge than rhyming, metered verse. I struggle to keep the lines free of obvious rhythm. I have to be careful with patterns as I can get stuck in them – as with numbers. These days they call it OCD. It’s comforting to have letters that prove I’m within the bounds of sanity, although those particular letters could stand for Occasional Crazy Days.

      • I can certainly get stuck in rhythm patterns and like you, have to be careful. But on the other hand, it’s my absolute belief that even if you’re writing prose, you have to be aware of the rhythm of it or it’s clumsy, The reader won’t recognise it as rhythm, but they’ll find it harder to read if it’s missing. If you see what I mean!

  3. rugby843 says:

    I doubt that. I think we become more appreciative of words in general as we age.

  4. My granddaughter doesn’t know the times tables. Can’t calculate ANYTHING without a machine. Can’t make change. It really is sad and it makes finding work very difficult for her.

    • I can’t imagine what they were thinking when they removed tables from the curriculum – I assume they thought everyone would carry calculators in future – which they do, of course, on their phones. I think they’re back in now, though. My grandchildren (younger than your granddaughter) seem to be learning them.

  5. Aunt Beulah says:

    Not creeping senility at all; those are wonderful poems with an easy rhyme and natural flow difficult to achieve and wonderful to read aloud. You are fortunate to have those snippets. Though it was no longer in vogue, I had my students (elementary, junior high, and high school) memorize poems; and though they complained, many mentioned bits of the poems when I ran into them years later.

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